Improve Mood and Lessen Anxiety Naturally With Yoga.
If, like me, you don't know your mountain pose from your fish posture, then it's clear that yoga has passed you by. However, if you'd like to improve your mood and lessen your anxiety naturally, yoga may be just the thing for you.
One thing I do know a little about is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and this is the key to what we might call the yoga effect. Yoga is said to increase levels of GABA, so to understand its significance it helps to know a thing or two about GABA.
GABA is a naturally occurring substance found in the brain. It is a neurotransmitter that has a specific role in the anxiety response. The main action of GABA is one of inhibiting nerve cells from firing. Low levels of GABA means high levels of activity between nerve cells, all of which results in the fight-or-flight response associated with stress. Put another way, low levels of GABA leads to high levels of fear.
The effect of benzodiazepine drugs such as Diazepam (Valium) is to enhance the action of GABA, which in turn reduces levels of anxiety. Similarly, alcohol is known to enhance the action of GABA within the hypothalamus and sympathetic nervous system. The problem with alcohol is that it also has the effect of reducing natural production of GABA and this can easily lead to dependence on alcohol in order for the person to maintain their desired emotional state. Although stopping the intake alcohol may be uncomfortable to begin with, the good news is that natural levels of GABA are eventually re-established.
And so to yoga. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have been reporting interesting findings with yoga for some time. In 2007, they published findings in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, suggesting that depression and anxiety could be relieved through the practice of yoga. The group compared levels of GABA in volunteers prior to and after one hour of yoga and compared the results with another group of volunteers who sat and read for the same amount of time. A 27 percent increase in GABA was observed in volunteers who undertook yoga.
More recently, the researchers compared yoga with walking and other forms of exercise. Once again they found that yoga had a greater positive effect. The conclusion is that yoga postures seem to stimulate specific areas of the brain associated with GABA production. Quite how the mechanism works and how sustainable the effects are have yet to be fathomed. Still, as an alternative or possibly even a supplement to drugs, it clearly appears to have merit for further investigation. Meanwhile, there's nothing stopping any of us getting involved in this natural and useful form of exercise and relaxation.
Boston University Medical Center (2010, August 23). New study finds new connection between yoga and mood. Science Daily Retrieved December 3, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100819112124.htm
Streeter, C, C. et al (2010) Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety and Brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 16 (11).